How to Get a Service Dog

Man holding sleepy catA service dog is a dog that is trained to perform tasks for a person with a disability. They are able to provide life-changing assistance that allows people to become more independent. There are many different types of service dogs, from guide dogs for the blind to psychiatric service dogs that help people with mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD.

Because service dogs are so incredibly beneficial, many people are interested in getting one. However, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out where to start. If you want to know how to get a service dog, then you’ve come to the right place. We’ll tell you everything you need to know, including how to qualify, where to get a service dog from, how to finance the dog, and even alternative options.

Qualifying for a Service Dog

If you’re interested in getting a service dog, your first step is to discuss it with your doctor. In order to qualify, you need to have some sort of disability, whether mental or physical, that could benefit from the help of such an animal.

Your doctor can provide documentation that acts as proof of your need for a service dog. This documentation is important if you are hoping to get a service dog from an organization that provides them. Once you have what you need from your doctor, you can start your search for a service dog provider.

Where to Get a Service Dog

If you’ve been thinking about getting a service dog, you may be wondering where to find one. Charitable organizations aren’t the only avenue for obtaining a service dog. You can also go directly to dog trainers or even train a service dog yourself. Let’s talk about each option in more detail.

From a Non-Profit Organization

There are many non-profit organizations that train and donate service dogs to those with disabilities. Some are able to give dogs away for free, but they often have long waiting lists because of this.

Other charitable organizations may not be able to give dogs away for free, but they do provide service dogs at a reduced cost. It’s not unusual to be charged $8,000 – $10,000 for such a dog.

This may seem like a lot of money, but many service dogs cost upward of $20,000 to fully train. Some of the most expensive service dogs cost $50,000 to train. When you consider this, paying $10,000 doesn’t seem so bad.

Though expensive, the price of these service dogs is worth it. Non-profit organizations are trustworthy sources as they choose their dogs carefully and ensure they are fully vetted.

They have a good eye for which dogs will make it as service animals, and are not afraid to flunk dogs that just don’t have what it takes. You can be sure the dog you’re getting is one you can trust with your health and wellbeing.

Another reason non-profit organizations are a great choice for obtaining a service dog is that they tend to offer continual support. Before you receive your dog, you will usually have to attend classes.

These classes teach you all of the dog’s commands, as well as the basics of dog training, so that you can keep your dog’s skills sharp even after you bring them home. If you ever have any questions or issues, you can reach out to the organization for help.
dog opens door for person in wheelchair

From a Service Dog Trainer

As awesome as non-profit organizations are, they may not be the best option for everyone. Perhaps they are too costly or the waiting lists are just too long. In that case, you might want to consider going to a service dog trainer or (for-profit) organization that specializes in training service dogs.

For this option, you will typically have to provide a dog yourself. However, many service dog trainers are willing to help you find a puppy. Some have partnerships with breeders who specialize in breeding pups that go on to be service animals.

Otherwise, the trainer can help you identify the qualities you should be looking for in a puppy. If you already have a dog, then the trainers will evaluate them to see if they may be suitable for service work.

It’s important to be aware that there is some amount of risk involved here. This is because not all dogs are suited to performing service work. There is always a chance that the dog you choose will flunk the service dog training.

For some people, the risk is worth it, because if the dog does pass, the training usually only takes about six months. This is usually a much quicker turnaround than non-profit organizations. Furthermore, even if the dog does flunk, they may still be useful to you.

Dogs can flunk for various reasons, such as fear or a lack of confidence. When this happens, they aren’t able to work well in public places. However, if you don’t need a dog that you can bring into public areas, then the training may not go to waste.

After all, there is a lot your dog can do for you at home. They can fetch things for you, calm anxiety, or even remind you to take medication. Still, should you choose to go this route to obtain a service dog, then you should have a plan in place if the dog isn’t suitable for service work.

Train a Service Dog Yourself

woman training dog outside

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law that governs service dogs. According to this law, it is perfectly legal to train a service dog by yourself. You are not required to hire a professional if you do not want to.

Therefore, training your own service dog can be a cost-effective option. You can also ensure that your dog is perfectly tailored to your needs. However, there is, once again, the risk that you may find your dog unsuitable for service work, and you may need to start over with a different dog or consider other options.

Though it is within your rights to train your own service dog, it’s not a bad idea to hire a professional to help you, especially if you’re not very knowledgeable about dog training. Hiring someone will increase the overall cost of the dog, but this option is usually still cheaper than the others we’ve listed.

To cut costs even further, you can consider online training. There are many professionals that can work with you online via webcam. Here at USSA, we offer an affordable online service dog training course for Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSD). If a PSD is the type of service dog you need, then our online training course may be perfect for you.

Adopt a Failed Service Dog

As we’ve been saying, not all dogs are cut out for service work. However, those that fail training still tend to be well-behaved and may know some useful skills. Dogs that fail their service training are often called “Career Change Dogs.”

Dogs fail for different reasons, such as physical health issues or behavioral issues like fearfulness, excitability, or problems with focusing in public. If you don’t need a service dog to work in public, it’s possible that a Career Change Dog could work for you. However, you’ll want to ask questions about why the dog failed to ensure that they’d still be a good fit for your needs.

You can often find failed service dogs through organizations that offer fully trained service dogs. Some organizations providing Career Change Dogs include Service Dogs Inc., Freedom Service Dogs of America, and Guide Dogs for the Blind. Unfortunately, there is a high demand for Career Change Dogs, which results in long waiting lists.

How to Afford a Service Dog

Now that you know the different ways to go about getting a service dog, let’s talk about how to afford one. After all, the cost is one of the major factors preventing people from getting service dogs.


Unfortunately, health insurance plans almost never cover the cost (or even part of the cost) of getting a service dog. However, if you have a flexible spending account (FSA), then you may be able to use it toward a service animal, but you will need a letter of medical necessity from your doctor to do so.


Grants are funds that you do not have to pay back. There are many non-profit organizations that offer grants to people with disabilities who are looking to get a service dog. The grant may not always cover the entire price of the dog, but it can definitely help offset the overall cost.


Fundraisers are one of the oldest methods of raising money for a cause. Thanks to the internet, fundraisers can reach an even wider audience.

Not only are there platforms like GoFundMe designed for collecting donations, but social media is a great way to spread the word about a fundraiser. Even if people aren’t able to donate, they can still help by clicking “share.”

Aside from online fundraisers, you can host fundraisers locally. Try reaching out to churches, businesses (especially employee-owned or small businesses), or other community organizations to see if they’d be willing to help.

Oftentimes, businesses will pick a day to promote your fundraiser, and a percentage of their earnings for that day will go toward your cause. Churches can ask for donations on your behalf during service.

Personal Loans

If you’re struggling to afford a service dog, a personal loan can be very helpful. The downside of loans, of course, is not only that you have to pay them back, but also that they will accrue interest. If possible, getting a grant or doing some fundraising can help reduce the amount you have to borrow.

Alternatives to Service Dogs

If you feel that getting a service dog is not a possibility for you or just isn’t the right choice, then you may be wondering if there are any other ways an animal could help you. There are! Let’s look at some alternatives to service dogs.
woman on couch reading by dog

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals (ESAs) are used to help treat mental disabilities. An ESA does not need any special training and doesn’t even have to be a dog. It can be any animal that is legal to own. This is a great option for someone who may not be able to commit to caring for a dog.

In order for an animal to become an ESA, the owner must be evaluated by a doctor who then provides documentation stating the patient’s need for such an animal. This is important because it allows people to live with their ESAs in rentals without needing to pay an extra fee.

Thanks to the Fair Housing Act, ESAs cannot be denied from living in rentals where pets aren’t allowed. That is, as long as the renter has proof from their doctor that they need the animal. If you think an ESA could be the right choice for you, then we can help you register your pet.

Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs are typically brought to places like hospitals or nursing homes to comfort the residents. They do not need intensive training like a service dog does, but they do need to pass the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test.

This test ensures that the dog is well-mannered, obedient, and friendly. Raising a therapy dog to bring joy to other people can be fulfilling and improve one’s own mental health. However, you could also raise a therapy dog for your own benefit.

Living with a dog that is well-behaved and enjoys giving and receiving affection can boost one’s mood as well as provide comfort during difficult times. This is why therapy dogs can be a great alternative to service dogs.

Not all dogs can be therapy dogs. The most important qualities they need to have are friendliness, a calm temperament, and an eagerness to learn. Luckily, most dogs can be trained to be both friendly and calm.
woman in hospital bed hugging dog

Four-Legged Assistants

Service dogs are much like personal assistants, except they walk on four legs and can do some things that humans can’t (like detecting seizures before they happen). They are also versatile and can be trained to help with a variety of different disabilities.

Getting a service dog isn’t always easy. They can be very expensive, and you may have to wait a long time to get one. Should you choose to train a dog yourself, it takes a lot of hard work, and there’s always the risk of the dog not being suitable for the job.

The process of getting a service dog may involve some hardship or a terribly long wait, but it’s well worth it. Once you have your furry assistant, you’ll be able to experience life in ways you may not have thought possible.